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updated: 4/5/2014 9:36 PM

Cubs only a memory now for Sandberg

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  • Ryne Sandberg watches batting practice before his Phillies played the Cubs on Friday. Sandberg said he doesn't think about the Cubs unless he's managing against them.

      Ryne Sandberg watches batting practice before his Phillies played the Cubs on Friday. Sandberg said he doesn't think about the Cubs unless he's managing against them.
    Associated Press


As long as Ryne Sandberg is managing, and as long as there are Cubs fans who remember fondly the Hall of Famer in blue, there will be conversation in Chicago about why he's not here.

But Sandberg left the Cubs behind long ago and has little interest in discussing his former team.

"I don't think about them if we're not playing them," Sandberg said while standing near the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field. "There's players over there (in the other dugout) that I managed and I root for them, but Philadelphia is my home and this is my team. I don't worry about other teams."

If it sounds like there's a hint of bitterness, there might be. Some think he has a right to harbor ill will, but Sandberg is a black-and-white guy. Business is business. GMs are hired to make decisions.

The Cubs made theirs. Twice.

The Phillies have made theirs. End of story.

The ballpark here is great. The fans wonderful. The team not his problem.

"It's very comfortable here with a group of people I know well," Sandberg said of the Phillies. "Getting the team back to a championship level is the goal. That's what's on my mind."

After six years in the minors and 42 games at the Phillies' helm to conclude last season, the novelty has worn off and Sandberg is merely managing now, but the winter and the spring gave him a chance to build a coaching staff and start molding the team in his image.

There was a much-publicized moment in the spring when Sandberg benched star shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Eventually, Rollins went to Sandberg, the two had a conversation and the matter was put to rest.

From afar, it looked as though Sandberg picked out the biggest, baddest guy on the playground, bloodied his nose and made his point to the rest of the group. Sandberg says it was nothing that serious.

"Everything's fine. There was an opportunity to set the tone on some things," Sandberg said. "We had a really good talk and it's not a big thing at all. Everyone's on the same page here.

"Part of spring training is players have to learn about the manager, and the manager learns about the players. That was just an instance of that."

Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa has known Sandberg since he was a 19-year-old, minor league shortstop in the Philadelphia organization, aiming to someday take Bowa's job. He says Sandberg has taken to this as naturally as he did second base.

"He's really good at it," said the 68-year-old Bowa, himself a big-league manager for six seasons. "He's informed, he doesn't panic and he communicates well.

"He's got something nobody else managing has. He's got the credibility of a Hall of Famer who rode buses for six years to get here. Mike Schmidt did it for a month. Ryno's here because he wanted it, not because he needed it."

Sandberg insists on only a few things from his players.

"It's not my way or the highway," Bowa said. "If you communicate with him and explain why this not that, he's got an open door. He basically wants you to respect the game. A lot of young players today don't respect the game. If you want to play for him, you better respect the game.

"He's flexible. He's fair. If you don't run out balls, he won't embarrass a guy or take him out. He'll call a guy in and tell him he didn't like the way he ran the bases or his demeanor after striking out. He's a stickler for playing the game the right way.

"But he's a really good teacher. He sees things not everyone sees because he was a details guy as a player and he passes his knowledge around. That 'HOF' gives him instant credibility, especially since he rode buses longer as a manager than most guys ever have as a player."

Sandberg laughed at the notion that he's got it all figured out.

"I come to the park every day to learn something," Sandberg said. "As a coaching staff, we talk the game all the time and come up with ideas.

"I believe in a structure and culture and a locker room that is about winning a game every day, but it's a game of adjustments. It always has been for me.

"If there's a new idea on how to do things in this era of baseball, you keep the players informed. I've adjusted to sabermetrics. It's helpful and interesting. It's not everything, but it's information and you never turn your back on information.

"We play around a lot with defensive shifts, which I never saw in my day, but the game has changed. You have to change with it or you fall behind."

As always, Sandberg stays ahead by looking forward -- and the Cubs are in the rearview mirror.

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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